The High Cost of Home Automation

The High Cost of Home Automation

Today’s home-automation technology can not only make life easier, it can also render your house more energy efficient. A last-minute change of plans means you won’t be home until late? Call your programmable thermostat on your smartphone and reset the time the heater cranks up. Wake up at 2AM craving a snack? Set the occupancy sensor in the hallway so that it comes up to 25-percent brightness when it’s triggered in the early-morning hours and you won’t wake your spouse.

Those are just two examples. But considering how inexpensive PCs have become, isn’t it remarkable how pricey high-end home-automation systems remain? Case in point: Best Buy—a retailer typically known for discount prices—offers what they bill as an all-in-one home-automation system. It’s called ConnectedLife.Home and it costs a mere $15,000. For that princely sum, you get a 32-inch flat-panel TV, a PC, a media extender, a gigabit router, a wireless access point, a digital thermostat, five dimmer switches, five standard switches, two six-button lighting keypads, two wireless network video cameras, a remote control, the software to control the system, and someone to install it.


Besides the obvious drawback of the price tag, this one-size-fits-all approach to home automation is unlikely to deliver a very satisfying experience—especially for tech-savvy readers such as Maximum PC’s audience. It doesn’t take into account whatever gear you might already own, for starters; and while you can add components to the package, you can’t substitute for what’s already in it.

Here’s the number-one reason why: Many of the companies selling the components essential to a home-automation system market their products available exclusively through custom installers.

 And as expensive as Best Buy's ConnectedLife.Home might sound, it’s cheap compared to what most true custom installers would charge. Exceptional Innovation’s Lifeware home-automation software is the only element of the system that Best Buy identifies by brand name, and Exceptional Innovations sells this product only to custom installers. (At least EI is straightforward about it. Some manufacturers claim they don’t sell their products directly to the consumer, but you’ll find them in all sorts of gray-market channels. This lets them have it both ways: They sell into a market that’s potentially larger than the custom market, but don’t have to provide tech support to individual buyers.)

The function of every other component in Best Buy’s package, meanwhile, can be performed by products that are available in retail channels, both online and brick-and-mortar. And several other developers offer the PC software that’s essential to controlling a home-automation system.

A true custom installer, of course, can give you exactly what you wanted (or figure it out for you if you didn’t already know). I don’t doubt that these guys earn their money, and I don’t blame companies like EI for not making their products available in retail channels, either. The costs associated with tech support and consumer marketing can be formidable. But as geeks, why should we let someone else have all the fun of setting up a wicked-cool home-automation system?

Over the next several months in the magazine and in these blog posts, I’ll be reviewing as many DIY home-automation products as I can get my hands on. And since I’m in the process of building a new house, I’m going to integrate as many practical home-automation features as I can into the construction.

In order to keep the information relevant, I’ll only be reviewing products that can be purchased at retail and that can be self-installed as a retrofit. I’m not intent on building the unobtainable dream home you see in so many magazines (I couldn't afford it, and it probably wouldn't any fun to live in anyway!), but I will show you how to automate your own home; and I’ll document all the pitfalls I’m sure I’ll run into along the way.



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Hi there, You have done an excellent job. I'll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I'm confident they will be benefited from this site. PC go easy | Software tips



It's been so long ago that I don't even remember when it happened, but Best Buy was originally a pioneer discount brick & mortar operation. But a few years back, management, amid much whining about low profits and consumers attempting to rip them off by buying sale items and then attempting to return them after the sale ended, profiting from the higher price, declared that they would no longer be a known as a discounter and would pursue strictly full price high end merchandsie. About the only deal you can get now is on sale items. I also note that CDW, despite it's name, has never been a discounter. CompUSA and Circuit City are both out of business, and MicroCenter has to be watched very closely as they often sell discontinued items and seconds as 'sale' items. Now that almost all of the competition for Best Buy is gone, watch out for humongous price hikes.



I have to say I've been waiting for you guys to do this and I'm glad you've started. I love making my own stuff and making it just right. So thanks in advance.



I posted this on one of your other posts, it would be great if you can add this to your forum topic section. Alot of people out there want to know more and it would be great for people to come and talk about this.

Looking forward to more.



A big problem that we have here is that in RI, you have to be licensed to run/install those cables (cat3/cat5/coax, etc..). Best buy and Circuit City and what ever other box store are going around that. They are making a killing off their $8/hr installer.



I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences. We are also in the process so any advice is welcomed!



I am in the process of buying a home. So I am looking forward to your findings. Please emphasize the energy savings so I can sell it to my wife.

PS is there anything out there for washer machines?
Like a notification to get your but down stairs and stop watching the TV.

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